- The Future is Mi'kmaq:Exploring the Merits of Nation-Based Histories as the Future of Indigenous History in Canada
INDIGENOUS HISTORY IN CANADA, over the course of the last ten years, has taken an exciting turn, moving away from broad studies of Indigenous groups in general and their relationship to the Canadian settler state and towards place-based studies of individual nations, their territories, and their unique experiences with colonialism. This is a practice that decentres the colonial state and re-centres Indigenous nationhood and, as a result, this has had an impact on the way we understand the field itself. The term "Indigenous history," and even the term "Indigenous people," can be misleading because it denotes a homogeneity that does not reflect the reality of Indigenous pasts and presents. In the aftermath of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action, which in part called for educators to play a role in remedying past harms done to Indigenous people,1 debates surrounding the responsibility of historians to contemporary Indigenous lives have led to new and important shifts in the field. And as historians have worked to make space for Indigenous voices, experiences, and even ways of doing history, the way we conceptualize research has changed. It is no longer always useful to see "Indigenous people" as a single group, in both our understandings of Indigenous people in scholarly work and in the way we implement reconciliation as a concept. There are many Indigenous nations in what is called Canada, and each nation has its own unique history as a result of colonization. Reconciliation does not work as a one-size-fits-all remedy for colonial trauma, nor can Indigenous history be treated as the study of a single, homogeneous group if it is to do the many unique nations it discusses justice. The push to study individual nations has produced brilliant scholarship on regional – though many Indigenous academics would call these national – scales, and [End Page 206] may hold some answers to questions about how to "do" reconciliation in a more adequate way.2
My work as a Mi'kmaw historian – who happens to focus a great deal on the Mi'kmaw nation – has been shaped by distinctly Mi'kmaw factors; at the same time, I am influenced by methodologies championed by scholars of other nations, who have come to conclusions about how to decolonize their own work in ways that honour their own cultures. For example, Mohawk historian Susan Hill's The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River takes a distinctly Haudenosaunee approach to the history of the confederacy's territory, using Haudenosaunee laws, stories, and cultural practices to craft a narrative that could not be done by anyone outside of the nation.3 Similarly, Allan Downey, a Dakelh historian, uses Haudenosaunee stories and cultural connections – as well as those of his own nation and others – to the game of lacrosse to write a history of the sport as a form of colonial resistance and cultural resurgence in The Creator's Game: Lacrosse, Identity, and Indigenous Nationhood.4 There are aspects of these books that in many ways are inaccessible to non-Indigenous people, and even Indigenous people from other nations, but these inaccessible moments are crucial to the way we understand reconciliation and our very conceptions of what are Indigenous nations. In Mi'kma'ki, similar trends have occurred in historical scholarship; these trends are informed by specifically Mi'kmaw worldviews, and it is these trends that this essay will discuss. Historians of the Mi'kmaq, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have begun shifting what it means to do Indigenous history by using the Mi'kmaw language and centering Mi'kmaw conceptions of space and time in their work. This serves to disrupt homogenous conceptions of Indigeneity, while at the same time asserting a kind of Mi'kmaw academic sovereignty that reflects the promising future of the field.
Place matters to Indigenous nations; for many Indigenous people, our sense of place is often deeply embedded in our languages and cultural practices and [End Page 207] shapes the way we view ourselves in...